When Taylor Swift released her second album, Fearless, back in 2008, she was a bright-eyed singer-songwriter hoping to make it big in Nashville. Fifteen years later, it’s clear she’s made it big everywhere. “I don’t know how it gets better than this,” the 33-year-old sings to a stadium of 70,000 people. Every last one of them shares the feeling.
The five years since Swift’s last tour have been among her most productive. She has made four additions to her “family” of albums: 2019’s LoveThe 2020s Folklore and Always more, and the 2022s Midnights. At the same time, she has been busy re-recording her first six albums as part of her plan to reclaim the master recordings after a very public battle with her former label.
Her “Eras Tour” was designed as a journey through the staggering back catalog of 10 albums, from her earlier country twang on her self-titled debut to the shift to synth-pop on 1989then to the subdued folk and alt-rock of Folklore and Evermore. Throughout the opening night of the tour, it often feels like the audience is caught up with Swift’s past, present and future. In the 44-song set list that spans three hours and 15 minutes, she shows why the “era” concept is so integral to who she is. Each chapter marks a specific shift in her artistry.
There is a palpable excitement at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Costumes are adorned with hand-painted texts; faces are bright with glitter; hands are covered in Swift’s lucky number 13. The fans I talk to say the concert feels like “coming home.” Swift herself admits she felt a little overwhelmed: “I’m going to try to hold it together all night.”
Lots of Swift’s greatest hits will of course be on the set list, but there are also surprises. Like the fact that she opens on “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” the hazy synth-driven track from Love, inspired by Swift’s political disillusionment. In it, she cast herself as a high school student who deals with bullies as an allegory for the right wing’s rise to power in the United States, and the heartbreak and despair that came with it. Deeper album cuts emerge in the form of “Illicit Affairs,” the haunting track where Swift battles her inner feelings, and a striking acoustic version of “Mirrorball,” which she dedicates to her fans. Later, they get the chance to scream-sing along to some of her most cutting lyrics on “Vigilante S***” (“I don’t dress for women/ I don’t dress for men/ Lately I’ve been dressing for revenge”).
Each era transition is marked by both a costume and a set change. “Look What You Made Me Do,” the 2017 single that heralded her return after a lengthy hiatus, sees different versions of Swift in glass cases: a nod to a time when she struggled to reconcile her sense of self with her public image. For songs from the autumnal, insular Folklore and Always more, the scene is overtaken by trees and a cozy, moss-covered cabin. At one point, the stage is bare except for a long wooden table that she arranges for two people. It’s sparse and cold, echoing the sharp sound of “tolerating it,” where she’s asking for another person’s attention.
Tellingly, Swift closes on “Karma,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to how she ultimately rose above the tabloid headlines, feuds and rivalries that once circled her like vultures. Dressed in a sparkly fringed jacket and joining her troupe of dancers, she seems as liberated as she’s ever been. “Ask me why so many fade/ But I’m still here,” she sings. The answer is right there for all to see.